We’ve seen a rejigged Optimus Prime and the promise of some Dinobot action, and Michael Bay tells Yahoo that 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' will also be an altogether “more cinematic” movie than the ones that have come before.
“I wanted the first Transformers to be very suburban and less cool,” Bay told us from the Detroit set of this fourth chapter. “This is a much more cinematic one. I focused on keeping this one slick. There won’t be any goofiness in this one. We went a bit too goofy [on the last one].”
But despite Optimus’s updated design, Bay is quick to point out that this really is the fourth in an ongoing series – “reboot” is a dirty word here. “It feels like a new chapter, this movie,” he says. “But it’s not a reboot. This movie lives in the history of the 'Transformers' movies, and this one starts three years after the last. It feels fresh.”
Yahoo is navigating a maze of debris in a mocked-up version of Hong Kong as Bay rushes around the set, directing shots and acting as our tour guide. We’re pieces to be moved on the director’s chessboard - as with the rest of the crew, we go exactly where he tells us and he makes sure we have more than we could need.
Few directors have this level of control, and you get the sense that nothing happens on a Michael Bay set without him knowing about it.
We start by his personal monitor, where a small metal model of Bumblebee’s head sits standing guard. Immediately, Bay cues up five or six explosive shots taken earlier from the scene being shot on this set - the film’s last stand battle.
“I do big setups,” he says, with some understatement. “I like to do ‘runners’, where [the cameras are] with the characters in the war. We’re in the thick of it with Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, and we’ve got all these things going off.”
The human cast totally replaces the first trilogy’s top-liners, and Bay leads us to a Chinese noodle shop, where a giant monitor has been erected, to show us 15 minutes of character and action culled from the first month of shooting.
Wahlberg plays a wacky inventor – think Doc Brown, but with firmer abs – and overprotective father to Nicola Peltz’s Tessa. We watch as he discovers a Transformer and gets drawn into a conflict that has taken its toll on Earth – a sign saying 'Remember Chicago' hints at the destruction at the end of the last film. And then we see Wahlberg get distracted by the arrival of his daughter’s race driver boyfriend, played by Jack Reynor.
“The human element really attracted me,” Wahlberg tells us. He signed on without reading the script, off the back of his conversations with Bay.
“I had a great time working with him on 'Pain & Gain', and he asked me to come back, so I said, ‘Absolutely.’ The idea of playing a dad to a teenage girl – those are issues I’ll be having to deal with sooner rather than later, whether I like it or not.”
As for the action: what’s most remarkable about what we see is that we can see anything at all. Bay’s special effects guru, John Frazier, has worked on movies like 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Spider-Man', and he says the Transformers films, despite being full of CG, are at least 50% practical.
During the Bayhem in the sizzle, made of pre-CG shots, it seems as though the only element missing is the Transformer itself – cars flip, buildings crumble and the city explodes, all for real.
So is it essential to Bay that as much is practical as possible? “Yeah baby,” he says. “It’s kind of a dying art in Hollywood – nobody does anything for real. John’s one of the grand masters of physical effects.
"He can’t hear right because he’s done so many explosions. We still hold the Guinness World Record for Pearl Harbor: John rigged 350 bombs in seven seconds. Nowadays I think you would fake a lot of it.”
A round of applause rings out as the sizzle ends, and we turn to find the cast admiring Bay’s handiwork. Peltz and Reynor say they’ve never seen sets of this scale, and both went through a rigorous audition process to get their parts.
After watching Reynor drive Wahlberg and Peltz in a beaten-up Toyota backwards through streets littered with flaming rubble, we ask about their preparations for the film. “Jack and I did boot camp, which involved boxing and sprinting,” says Peltz, “We had to get in shape.”
Reynor went through two months of precision driving training to feel comfortable behind the wheel and to “learn how to throw the car around”. After auditioning for the part, he remembers receiving an email from Bay. “It said, ‘It’s Bay. Call me.’ So I did.”
[Michael Bay adds details on 'insane Hong King incident']
Bay appears behind him to pick up the story. “I said to him, ‘I just saw you in Delivery Man. You were great. So anyway, on this movie… it’s not going to work out.’ And he said, ‘Oh. OK, OK.’”
“And then he just goes, ‘Nah, I’m just f—king with you,’” laughs Reynor. “I fell to the ground right away.”
It’s not as though the cars had an easier ride. “When car makers heard we were making this fourth one, they’d literally drive cars to my office,” Bay laughs as he leads us to meet this movie’s cast of vehicles.
After coming bumper-to-bumper with the full-size versions of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime (a Chevy Camaro and a Western Star 4900 truck respectively) we say hello to pair of new beauties debuting in 'Age of Extinction': a blue-and-black Bugatti Veyron and a red-and-black Pagani Huayra. “I’ve driven the Veyron – it’s pretty cool,” says Bay. “They all want to be Autobots, too – no one wants to be a Decepticon.”
What brought Bay back for a fourth Transformers movie, after vowing he wouldn’t return? “It was the Transformers ride,” at Universal Studios, he says. “It was seeing this two-and-a-half hour line, with all these kids lined up.”
That experience must come close to the rollercoaster of a Michael Bay set. Before the end of the day, we’re in yet another part of this decimated Hong Kong (which covers more than an entire Detroit city block) whilst Bay shows off another toy: an extensive pre-visualisation sequence of a key part of the film.
“We started on this movie in August , and while in the writing process I’m conceiving the action. We come up with shots like this and start figuring out the rigs to make it happen. It’s a lot of fun.”
It certainly looks that way.